Nestled in the quaint town of Healdsburg, CA, Bear Republic Microbrewery and Restaurant is one of those places that you enter and immediately feel welcome and relaxed. Bear Republic is family owned and has created an extended family environment of workers and regular customers interested in racing cars, BBQs, camping, and just having a fun time. Our bar server, Celeste, was friendly, helpful, and very knowledgeable. The microbrewery’s dedicated customers are very friendly and sort of remind me of Norm from the TV show Cheers, each having a regular bar seat (don’t worry – if you happen to take a regular customer’s seat they won’t mind). My wife still talks about regular customer “NASCAR Rick”. The foundation that keeps this environment operating is composed of a series of masterfully created and award-winning beers that demonstrate the impressive skills of brewmaster Rich Norgrove.
Beer samples are available and I managed to sample nine beers during our short stop. My tasting notes follow.
Bear Republic Tartare Berliner Weisse (4% ABV / 8 IBUs): Berliner Weisse originated as a regional beer from Northern Germany that is typically a cloudy, sour, wheat beer with low alcohol (around 3% ABV). Winner of a 2013 Good Foods Award and rated World Class by Beer Advocate, Bear Republic’s interpretation is available only on draft. Tartare pours a clear straw color with little to no foam in my glass. The beer has a sour apple aroma with some pear notes in the background. Tartare is medium-bodied with prickly carbonation. This beer has a wonderful grain and tart apple flavor and wet finish. Tartare is a sour beer lover’s delight!
Bear Republic Cher Ami Belgian-style Single (4.7% ABV / 16 IBUs): Available only on draft, Cher Ami pours a clear gold color with off-white foam that leaves a nice lace. The beer has a light malt and grain aroma. Cher Ami is light-bodied. Flavors include biscuit malt, earthy hay/straw, some light fruit, and a mild peppery spice. Cher Ami has a wet finish. Cher Ami is a good beer that may be my friend but it was not mi amore.
Bear Republic Red Rocket Scottish Red Ale (6.8% ABV / 67 IBUs): Winner of seven CA State Fair Gold and Silver Medals, two Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Silver Medals (1998, 1999), and a Silver Medal at the 1998 World Beer Cup, Red Rocket has astounding credentials for a beer that Bear Republic describes as “a bastardized Scottish style red ale that traces its origins to our homebrew roots”. In this case “bastardized” means a healthy dose of hops that creates a distinctly American Red Ale. Red Rocket pours a clear, deep copper-red color with persistent white foam that leaves a nice lace. The beer has a strong sweet caramel malt aroma with hints of floral hops. Red Rocket is medium to full-bodied with creamy texture and moderate carbonation. One sip and your mouth is engulfed with sweet caramel malt, bread, and dark fruits. The beer finishes dry with toasted malt, earthy undertones, and a devilishly delightful bitterness. This world-class Rocket will launch you to the heavens with beer drinking delight!
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA (7% ABV / 75+ IBUs): Racer 5 IPA is Bear Republic’s flagship beer and has won four Gold and Silver Medals at the GABF, a World Beer Cup Silver Medal, and two Gold Medals at the CA State Fair. Brewed with American pale and crystal malts, and heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial hops, this beer pours a clear gold color with healthy white foam that leaves a lace web. Racer 5 has a citrus aroma from the hops with a light undertone of malty bread. The beer is full-bodied with moderate carbonation. Racer 5 has a sweet malt and biscuit flavor that is rapidly overtaken by delightfully strong hops bitterness. A little earthy hay/straw follows and then the beer finishes mildly dry with an impressive and lingering hops bitterness. This is a wonderful West Coast IPA that goes for the checkered flag.
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (8% ABV / 80 IBUs): Hop Rod Rye is an IPA style beer brewed with 18% rye malt that has a long list of Medal awards at the CA State Fair and is rated World Class by Beer Advocate. This beer pours a clear amber color with persistent beige foam that leaves a nice trailing lace. Hop Rod Rye has a malt, citrus, and floral initial aroma that is followed and enhanced by spicy rye. The beer is medium-bodied and creamy with mild carbonation. Hop Head Rye has an initial sweet caramel malt flavor with toffee. Rye then emerges to create a wonderful backdrop for the initial sweetness. The complex and delicious flavors are then topped with a hops bitterness that is skillfully integrated to create the perfect ending. Hop Rod Rye is the perfect symphony of flavors that had my engine revving!
Bear Republic Black Racer IPA (8.1% ABV / 75+ IBUs): Winner of a 2011 GABF Bronze Medal and a 2012 World Beer Cup Gold Medal, Black Racer “blends Bear Republic’s love of hops with the Pacific Northwest’s appreciation for dark ales”. This beer pours a clear, dark black color with a barely detectable red hue. Black Racer has a persistent tan foam that creates a nice lace. The beer has a sweet malt and coffee aroma that is followed with citrus and dark chocolate. Black Racer is medium-bodied with mild carbonation (think IPA, not stout). One sip delivers an explosion of delicious roasted malt, dark chocolate and coffee flavors that are backed with citrus and bourbon-like undertones and the emergence of a deceptively strong hops bitterness. Black Racer IPA demonstrates a masterful integration of flavors. Drink this beer and you will be seduced by the Dark Side, as I was.
Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout (8.1% ABV / 55 IBUs): Winner of the 2001 World Beer Cup Gold Medal, 2007 GABF Silver Medal, 2009 LA International Beer Competition Gold Medal, and four CA State Fair Medals, Big Bear Black Stout is an American Stout that combines dark roasted malt with Centennial and Cascade hops. This beer pours a dark black color with barely detectable red hue and has an inviting tan foam. Big Bear Black Stout has a strong coffee aroma with a molasses background. This beer is medium-bodied but creamy with mild carbonation. Smooth and delicious flavors start with sweet caramel and char, followed by coffee and skillfully integrated hops bitterness. This beer finishes dry with a lingering chocolate flavor. You’d never know this beer has such a high alcohol content. No wonder Beer Advocate rates Big Bear Black Stout as World Class. Growl!
Bear Republic Prickly Pear Black Bear (8.1% ABV / 55 IBUs): Take Big Bear Black Stout and age it in chardonnay barrels with prickly pear and you get a beer so different that I’m still stunned. This out-of-the-box brew-thinking embraces Belgian brew philosophies. Prickly Pear Black Bear pours a dark black color with barely detectable red hue and has an inviting tan foam. The appearance is where this beer and Big Bear Black Stout separate. Prickly Pear Black Bear has a sour grape aroma. The beer is light bodied with mild carbonation. Prickly Pear Black Bear has a sweet and tart fruity flavor that includes hints of grapefruit. A subtle oak flavor is integrated and lingers with the sour finish. This beer is very different. I enjoyed this brew but I’m still dazed.
Bear Republic Café Racer 15 Double IPA (9.75% ABV / 100+ IBUs): Winner of a Silver Medal at the 2012 GABF, Café Racer 15 features aromas of bright citrus and intense resinous pine from the generous use of Citra, Amarillo, Cascade and Chinook hops. This beer is full-bodied with pronounced carbonation. Café Racer 15 starts with a very sweet malt flavor that is rapidly followed by intense pine resin and grapefruit. The beer has a dry malt finish with strong, exquisite, and lingering hops bitterness. The high alcohol content is exceptionally well-integrated. This is an outstanding beer that will have you racing for more.
Bear Republic Microbrewery and Restaurant was one of my favorite stops on this trip. My only regret is that we couldn’t stay longer. Thanks to bar server Celeste for helping to make our stop so enjoyable and to “NASCAR Rick” for background stories and making us feel like regulars too. And a huge thanks to my lovely wife for supporting this trip and stop.